OMAHA -- Giulio Persello held his arms high in the air, flashed a huge smile and was briefly knocked down while celebrating a goal he scored for Lincoln East during the state soccer tournament last week.
It's obvious the foreign-exchange student from Venice, Italy, is having fun playing soccer for the Spartans.
There have been some frustrating times adjusting to soccer and the English language, but Persello is now comfortable speaking with strangers and making plays on the soccer pitch.
Tuesday night, East will play Omaha South in the Class A state championship match, hoping to win a sixth state title, which would tie for the most in state history.
After school ends, Persello will return home for one more year of high school. He chose to be an exchange student and was told he'd be placed in Lincoln. On his application, Persello wrote that he hoped to play soccer, and he was assigned to Lincoln East.
In Italy, Persello plays on a club team but not for his school. He's enjoyed being on a team that represents a school.
"I prefer this if you just want to play for fun," Persello said. "In Italy, we play soccer to become a professional soccer player."
Persello plays outside defender in Italy, but it didn't take East coach Jeff Hoham long to realize that Persello has the speed and ability to crush a soccer ball that would make him a scoring threat, and now he plays forward and attacking midfielder.
It was in the Spartans' second game of the season, a 2-0 overtime victory against rival Lincoln Southwest, that Persello scored his first goal on a shot from more than 40 yards. That's when Persello learned how cool it could be to score a goal for your school, especially in front of a large crowd.
"I heard all the people and said, ‘Wow,'" Persello said.
He also has enjoyed the state tournament matches where fans sit close to the field.
"When we play in Italy we have this every game," Persello said. "The people give you energy to play."
His goal in a 2-0 win against Omaha Westside in the first round showed his skill.
Persello made a move at the top of the penalty box, and split two defenders with a rocket shot that ended up just inside the post in the top corner of the net.
Persello has led East with two goals during the state tournament, giving him 13 for the season, third-most on the team.
East players have given him a lot, too, Persello said. He reads anything from books to pizza advertisements to his teammates, and they help him pronounce words correctly.
Persello lives with teammate Mike Reckmeyer and his parents, Matt and Mary Reckmeyer.
"It's like he's already my brother," Mike Reckmeyer said.
Reach Brent C. Wagner at 473-7435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.